The Crossover, the 2015 Newbery Medal winner, offers powerful lessons for writers of all ages. At a recent meeting of the Children’s Book Guild in Washington, DC, Kwame Alexander shared craft insights related to his novel in verse, which I then shaped into the following three writing prompts:
1. UP YOUR LANGUAGE GAME: Read aloud some hip-hop basketball poems (“Dribbling,” “The Show,” “Man to Man,” “Show-off,” “The Last Shot”).
Classroom Writing: Have students write down the words and elements (line breaks, capitalization, font-size changes, rhymes, onomatopoeic words) that make this poem look and sound like a game of basketball. Why might the author have made these choices? Ask students to close their eyes and picture themselves playing a sport or doing an activity they love (soccer, ballet, hiking, painting, playing a musical instrument), then jot down words that remind them of this sport/activity and how it makes them feel to do it. Ask them to write a poem or paragraph that captures (through sound, capitalization, font-change, line breaks, etc.) the way this sport/activity moves. The final line or sentence might be how they feel doing it.
2. WHAT’S IN A NAME: Main character Josh Bell talks about his nickname in four poems (“Josh Bell,” “How I Got My Nickname,” “At First,” “Filthy McNasty”). What’s the nickname and who gave it to him? How does he feel about it at first? Why does he change his mind? How does he feel the nickname fits him in the last poem of those four?
Classroom Discussion: Ask students if they have a nickname. Is it a shortening of their real name? A characteristic? How do they feel about it? Has that feeling changed over time?
Classroom Writing: Ask students to write a name (could be an actual name or a nickname) that they would like to be called. Why does this name fit them better, perhaps, than their real name? (This could be a paragraph or a poem.)
Newbery winner Kwame Alexander and librarian Deborah Taylor, honored this year by ALA.
3. WHO’S IN YOUR LIFE?: Kwame thanked Deborah Taylor for suggesting, early in his career, that he write about a father, like his own, who is a strong influence on a young main character. (Deb was in the audience and is the recipient of the 2015 Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. She works at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Md., and has been a beloved literacy advocate and mentor for teens.)
Classroom Discussion: Have students discuss Josh’s father. Josh includes many details about Dad so that readers get a clear sense of his personality. What does he like to do? (Give advice about basketball to his sons, tell stories and puns, eat salty foods.) How does Josh feel about him? Can students find the italicized words that Dad actually speaks? What does he say?
Classroom Writing: Ask students to think of someone in their life that they would like to write about. Have them jot down what this person likes to do and eat, their favorite words or phrases, and something that the student and this person have done together and how student feels about that. (This might be a poem or piece of prose.)
MORE DETAILS ABOUT KWAME: Click here for Abby McGanney Nolan’s interview with Kwame in the KidsPost section of the Washington Post.